Photo by Mallory Biggar
The long-awaited event “Lies Feminists Tell,” drew over 150 people to the Communications Facility on May 9, many of whom were holding signs in protest of the event.
The event, hosted by Western’s chapter of Student’s for Life of America, centered around the president of the national organization Kristan Hawkins. Communications Facility 105 reached maximum occupancy before the event had started, and an overflow room in Communications Facility 110 sat more attendees.
According to Molly Sutton, president of Western’s Students for Life chapter, the club did not expect that many people to show and didn’t have plans for an overflow room until days before the event.
Apart from attendees in the crowd snapping, there were few comments made during Hawkins’ talk. However, when it came time for the question and answering period, tensions arose.
“Do you want to know the most controversial point in my #LiesFeministsTell speech at Western Washington University was last night? This is it: only women can get pregnant,” Hawkins said on her Facebook page following the event.
Her Facebook response alluded to the first question asked during the Q&A, when a non-binary attendee asked why Hawkins did not include trans and genderqueer people in their discourse. Hawkins stated that there were only two genders and referred to the person asking the question as a woman. The room erupted in protest.
Levi Eckman, Associated Students vice president for academic affairs and Student Senate Pro Tempore, told Hawkins it was embarrassing that Western funded her speech, and asked what she was doing with the money that she made from it.
“I think it’s so embarrassing student money funded your being here,” Eckman said to Hawkins. “When you say these things, what do you get out of it?”
In response, Hawkins said she saves the lives of mothers and children. She said she did not get paid to speak, but did have her travel expenses covered.
According to Sutton, the speech cost the club, in total, just over $500, including travel expenses, ASL interpreters and security. All of these expenses were paid for by the club, with the possible exception of additional security as a result of the event banner being burnt down, which may be paid for by the school, Sutton said.
The club is a part of the AS with a student account, however, the chapter receives outside donations which were used to pay for the event, according to Sutton.
Organizers of the protest partnered with the Student Advocacy and Identity Resource Center and procured two decompression rooms before, during and after the event, for those negatively impacted by the event, according to the Feminist Direct Action Facebook page.
The organizers also created a protocol list for the protest on the Facebook page, stating that protesters could not in any way impede or disrupt the speech.
Maya Cheval, a Whatcom Community College student and event attendee, said she thought the protest went well. She said a lot of people held up signs, discussed the issues raised and built community. They handed out pamphlets which listed resources and information about reproductive health.
Growing up in the fundamentalist evangelical church until leaving at the age of 14, Cheval said that she experienced the misogyny of the pro-life movement first-hand.
“Having six years to unlearn the nastiness I’d internalized and to learn about intersectional feminism, my immediate reaction to seeing that an anti-feminist, pro-life speaker was ‘no way we’re gonna let this happen without any backlash,’” Cheval said.
Before the event, Sutton said the reason the club was hosting Hawkins was to start a discussion on campus.
“We’re not here to attack anybody; we’re here as a resource,” Sutton said. “If [anyone] has questions, I invite them to reach out to us.”